News Analysis: Entering the sixth month of the war, Ukraine faces difficult dilemmas

Explosion invariably effective: A giant erupting fireball often followed by a cascade of secondary explosions in mid-air in slow motion. As soon as such frames get into the network, jubilant Ukrainian comments are immediately heard: “HIMARS Hour!”

As the war with Russia enters its sixth month, Ukraine is celebrating recent battlefield gains with sophisticated launchers known as Highly Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS. The Pentagon has provided or promised a dozen advanced systems capable of hitting targets up to 50 miles away.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of its smaller neighbor in February 201724, the conflict has deviated from the original unsuccessful attempt to capture the capital Kyivto significant Ukrainian territorial losses this summer in the eastern industrial center of the country.

Now the combat calculation seems to be changing again, with Ukrainian forces using their new weapons to strike at dozens of targets, including Russia. ammunition depots, troop concentrations and bridges. This is seen as a likely preparation for an offensive to retake Russian-held territory in the south of the country, close to the Black Sea coast.

“Ukrainian forces are currently using long-range missile systems with great success,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said last week during a virtual meeting of 50 countries that donate equipment to Ukraine. “I think everyone here understands the difference they’ve made on the ground.”

Soldiers checking an artillery piece

Ukrainian artillerymen check their equipment before heading to the front lines in Kherson, Ukraine, on July 15.

(Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

However, this battlefield effect forces Ukrainian officials to walk a fine line.

President Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior officials continue to urge for more Western weapons, stating bluntly that Ukraine cannot seize the military initiative without much more donated weapons. Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, made an unusual personal appearance Wednesday before Congress, where she eloquently referred to the suffering of the civilian population at the hands of Russia and also called for more military equipment.

But at the same time, Zelenskiy and his lieutenants are keen to portray a situation in which their military may already be ready to prevail, implicitly promising that the sacrifice of the country’s lives, as well as the growing economic and energy tensions of Western allies, deterring from war, will eventually the account will be worthwhile.

“We have significant potential to advance our forces at the front, and to inflict new significant losses on the occupiers,” Zelensky said late on Thursday in his address. night call to the country.

These two messages do not necessarily contradict each other. However, their calibration is a difficult task.

Excessive triumph, while boosting morale at home, could undermine the urgency of calls for more Western weapons. On the contrary, any manifestation of defeatism could hasten external calls for Zelensky to agree to territorial concessions to Moscow and possibly end hostilities before the onset of winter.

The onset of cold weather will mean that Ukraine’s European allies will face much more intense Kremlin action. energy crisis. Austin acknowledged this, citing problems with maintaining pressure on Russia.

“We are working hard to maintain and increase the momentum of donations,” he said. “There is no doubt that it will always be hard work to make sure we stay united.”

On the world stage, Ukraine consistently portrays Russia as a perfidious power that cannot be trusted to enforce international agreements, and Moscow’s actions often make this characterization convincing.

On Saturday, Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s southern port of Odessa, the Ukrainian military said, just a day after a UN-Turkey brokered deal to allow grain exports from Black Sea ports to alleviate the global food shortage caused by the war. .

“This is all you need to know about the Russians and the arrangements,” wrote Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. He argued that the episode reinforces the case for more and better Western weapons for Ukraine.

With the onset of the sixth month of hostilities — a psychological transition into long-war territory — the Kremlin says it is ramping up its military objectives, brushing aside its previously declared focus on the industrial heartland of the east, much of which it has captured.

Two women rescue cats near damaged buildings.

Two women rescue cats around damaged buildings after Russian troops shelled residential areas, injuring at least one civilian in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Saturday.

(Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently formulated territorial ambitions that go far beyond the Donbass, control over which Moscow has set as a main goal after failing to capture and subjugate Kyiv during the first weeks of the war.

“The geography has changed – it’s not just Donetsk and Lugansk,” Lavrov told Russian media last week, referring to the two eastern regions that make up the Donbass.

The Kremlin says increased Western military support for Ukraine played a role in the decision to expand its military goals. The claim was dismissed by Western officials, including German Foreign Minister Annalena Berbock, who told German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle last week that “this is just new propaganda from Russia.”

Ukrainian and Western officials have been saying for months that Russia may be preparing to annex territories captured since the invasion, but those warnings have intensified in recent days.

“Russia is setting the stage for the annexation of Ukrainian territory that it controls, in direct violation of Ukrainian sovereignty,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said last week.

Kirby, predicting that the Kremlin could move towards annexation as early as September, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “dusting the dust off the play” after the illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Ukrainian and Western officials say Ukrainian civilians, already living under Russian rule, are being subjected to a range of horrors – torture, illegal detentions, enforced disappearances. A report by New York-based Human Rights Watch released on Friday details the “abyss of fear” in the Russian-occupied regions of southern Ukraine.

On the battlefield, there is an increase in the capabilities of the Ukrainian military, while those of Russia appear to be diminishing. On Thursday, Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Vadym Skibitsky said at an online briefing that Russia had used up 60% of its stockpile of precision-guided missiles. But he noted that Moscow still has huge Soviet-era missile stockpiles.

“Russian forces are likely to continue to use their stockpile of lower-precision Soviet weapons systems,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. “But the decisiveness of these strikes, compared to Ukrainian HIMARS strikes, is likely to remain limited.”

Moscow denies it is deliberately targeting civilians, but its increased use of inaccurate projectiles explains some of the recent carnage in Ukrainian cities far from the eastern front.

Relatives and friends look at the murdered young girl.

Relatives and friends pay their respects to 4-year-old Liza Dmitrieva, who died in a Russian missile strike, during a ceremony in Vinnitsa, Ukraine, on Sunday, July 17, 2022.

(Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press)

Earlier this month, Ukraine was shocked by the death of a 4-year-old girl with Down syndrome in the central regional capital of Vinnitsa in a Russian missile attack. Moments before shrapnel pierced through the central district, cheerful child Liza Dmitrieva was shown in social media posts gleefully pushing her own stroller.

The gruesome footage that followed showed her crumpled body on the ground, along with an image of her severely wounded mother’s severed leg.

More of these heartbreaking scenes emerged last week from Ukraine’s second-largest city, the eastern metropolis of Kharkiv, which, after a brief reprieve, has once again come under heavy Russian fire. In photographs widely circulated online and confirmed by Ukrainian officials, a grieving father knelt for hours next to the body of his slain 13-year-old son, clutching the boy’s hand, after a strike outside the city’s bus stop.

Prediction is a particularly difficult art when it comes to this war.

The head of the CIA’s British equivalent, MI6 director Richard Moore, speaking last week at a widely circulated security forum in Aspen, Colorado, said Russian forces had received a “very, very bloody nose” and suggested that Moscow was “going to out of breath.”

However, the US Commander-in-Chief, speaking at the same event, predicted a long and painful job.

“It is likely that this will continue as an exhausting war of attrition for a certain period of time until both sides find an alternative way out of this situation,” the army general said. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Perhaps through negotiations or something like that.”

King reported from Kyiv, and Wilkinson from Washington.